I love a puzzle, I love a mystery, and I love history. The entangled combination of those passions yields hours of enjoyment for me, pouring over old scraps of paper and pictures. I happily lose myself in the pursuit of some fact that is today largely unknown – regardless of its importance – and in the uncovering of some odd and ironic link between faces and places of the distant past to the here and now. I like to think, to find out things.
A few years ago, Baldwyn native Al Phillips brought a tattered, old show poster into my Main Street office. As is the case quite often these days, Al told me I could hold on to his discovery. He said I could hang it up somewhere or just put it to use wherever I saw a good fit with the rest of the town’s growing history collection.
I cleaned it up a little and had it framed. It now hangs prominently in the foyer of The Claude Gentry Theatre.
Here’s what it says …
High School Auditorium
Adm. 25 & 50 Cents
Thurs. Nite, Nov. 21, 8pm
In Person – The Original
Alton & Rabon
Makers of Millions of Phonograph Records Including the Famous
“HILLBILLY BOOGIE” King Record No. 527
WSM GRAND OLE OPRY For Seven Years
WLW Boone County Jamboree for Four Years
CBS Harmonica King
The Funny Boy That Tickles Everybody
A Clean Complete Show Guaranteed to Please the Entire Family
Singing – Playing – Comedy – Spirituals and Old Time Hymns
Heard Over WMC Daily, 6:00 to 6:30 AM
Don’t Dare To Miss This Treat!
That says a lot. It tells us who was coming to Baldwyn to perform and where the show would be held. It tells us what the show was all about and even why it would be worth our time to go see it.
But what does it NOT say? The answer: it doesn’t say WHEN then show occurred.
Well, sure it does, one might counter – it clearly says right there at the top “Thurs. Nite, Nov. 21, 8pm.” Certainly, for the original reader of the poster, that bit of information, the one-line blurb, would be enough to pinpoint the date when the comedy of Cyclone could be enjoyed. It would be the “next” November 21. The one that was upcoming. But for us, decades hence, we don’t know the year.
And that’s where I get interested. Simply because there is something unknown, I want to know it. Whether or not the desire to know the unknown is an admirable or deplorable trait in human beings, I’ll leave for another story, but for now, let’s see if we can find out what year this show came to Baldwyn.
My best friend – Google – tells me that Alton and Rabon Delmore were stars of the Grand Ole Opry in the 1930’s, actively performing from 1926 to 1952. I also find that Wayne Raney, our poster’s second-billed star, was active as a performer from 1934 through the 1980s.
I look back at our poster – what do we know? The Delmore Brothers had already recorded Hillbilly Boogie. We know that they were stars of the Grand Ole Opry for seven years, but we don’t know if it was the immediately preceding seven years. The same can be said for their time with the Boone County Jamboree. Wikipedia says Wayne Raney played with the Delmore Brothers after World War II, but that doesn’t absolutely negate the possibility that they all happened upon the same card in Baldwyn on one odd night at another earlier time. Rabon Delmore died of lung cancer in 1952. Obviously, that sets the final range of date possibilities.
I shift gears and get analytical. Between 1934 and 1952, only three times does November 21st fall on a Thursday – 1935, 1940, and 1946.
The Delmore Brothers became regulars on the Grand Ole Opry in 1933, so by 1935 they probably wouldn’t have been touting themselves as “stars” of the Opry for seven years. Plus, Raney was the whopping age of 14 in 1935. 1940 seems like the likely year of the Baldwyn show since the Delmore Brothers would have been with the Opry for precisely seven years at that time. However, coincidentally, the brothers left the Opry in late 1939. Therefore, the duration of their stardom with the Opry was exactly seven years, and that was a fact they could have used in self-promotion for the rest of their careers.
So, what else do we know? The Delmore Brothers were the maker of “the famous Hillbilly Boogie, King Record. No. 527.” Hillbilly Boogie was released by the King label in March of … 1946.
There you have it. The big to-do at the Baldwyn High School Auditorium starring the Delmore Brothers, Wayne Raney and Cyclone (I’ll find him later) happened on a Thursday night, November 21st, 1946.
Puzzle finished. Mystery solved. Check.